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18 YEARS OF SICKNESS; FORGET EUROPE, FORGET SLEAZE THIS IS THE REAL ELECTION ISSUE; DEATH OF THE NHS; 1 in 5 hospitals closed; 1m waiting for ops; Trusts pounds 200m in debt; 50,000 fewer nurses.

A grim black and white photo of an empty hospital ward filling half a page in the Mirror said it all.

The Middlesex, one of the most famous teaching hospitals in London, was shutting FOUR general wards because it had run out of money.

It was November 1985. And we were all outraged as the Tory cuts and closures in the NHS began to bite.

An angry consultant phoned to tell me of the scandal. Even the hospital boss was willing to attack the Government openly for starving his hospital of cash.

"There is only one way to describe a government which cannot care for the sick. It is a sick government," said the Mirror.

Now - after 18 years of Tory government - the Middlesex is a mere shadow of its former self, merged with nearby University College Hospital.

These days the closure of a ward would barely warrant a paragraph in the paper. It is too commonplace.

It is happening every day, everywhere - beds closed, wards shut, operations cancelled, patients sent home.

Consultants are gagged by the Government from talking openly about the scandals putting patients at risk. Managers and chief executives speak out at their peril.

That story signalled the start of the Mirror's relentless revelations of the Tory cuts wrecking the NHS.

An NHS that had 356,000 hospital beds in England when the Tories came to power and now has 206,000. An NHS where prescriptions cost 20p an item in 1979 and now cost pounds 5.50.

An NHS where 538 hospitals - one in five - have closed.

An NHS that was not "safe in our hands" as Margaret Thatcher promised at the Tory conference in October 1982.

On March 26 1986 the Mirror shocked the nation with our special issue on the NHS.

Hospitals throughout the country told the same story - shortages of cash, staff and facilities putting lives at risk.

Over the next few years the NHS continued to deteriorate.

Every day our pages were full of horror stories. Every day I was inundated with calls from doctors, nurses, patients and relatives, telling of shortages, scandals and sufferings.

Then, a patient whose operation was cancelled because of a shortage of beds made news. Now 1,000 a week have surgery cancelled because there are not enough beds.

Then, vital equipment being bought by a charity made news. Now up to pounds 553 million of charity money a year pays for basics like equipment, buildings and running costs.

Then, a seven hour wait in casualty made news. Now it is two and a half days, as stroke victim Geoffrey Coppin found at St Helier hospital in Carshalton, Surrey, in January.

In May 1987 I reported there were 724,350 people on waiting lists. The story took up half a page in the Mirror. Today more than a million are waiting - the highest ever.

In December 1987 I said the NHS was pounds 70 million in the red. Today health authorities and hospital trusts are expected to be over pounds 200 million in debt by the end of the month.

In May 1989 Guy's Hospital - forced to slash intensive care cots for newborn babies from 20 to 10 - pleaded for charity to keeps its children's unit open. Today Guy's still depends on charity to save the lives of babies and children.

In 1989 the Government introduced eye and dental check-up charges.

Within months I revealed how dental care was in decay as thousands could no longer afford to go to the dentist.

Then in 1991 came the Tory NHS reforms - the most radical shake-up since it began. And things got even worse.

More and more managers and accountants on fat salaries seemed to be needed.

Before the reforms there were 4,600 general and senior managers and 116,840 clerical and admin staff. Now there are 30,000 senior managers and 132,650 clerical and admin staff.

This new bureaucracy costs an extra pounds 1.5 billion a year that could be spent on patients.

An astonishing 43,000 beds have been lost since 1990. There are 50,000 fewer nurses.

Hospitals have been turned into businesses, selling treatment and competing against each other for patients. GPs are encouraged to become fundholders, buying care at the cheapest hospital.

A two tier system sprang up, with patients of fundholders allowed to queue jump over sicker people.

The Government pledged that the reforms would mean money following patients so everyone got the treatment they needed. It didn't work.

Just seven months after they were introduced 18-month-old Georgina Norris died because there was no money to save her.

Six days earlier her heart operation was cancelled for the second time - Great Ormond Street hospital could not afford to run the intensive care bed she needed. The scandal made front page news and was raised in the Commons.

But there was no apology from the Government. The then Health Secretary William Waldegrave and Premier John Major insisted there were no cutbacks and no crisis.

Three months later six-year-old Carly Reavill died. She had meningitis and desperately needed intensive care but was turned away by two top hospitals with 10 empty beds - all closed because of lack of cash.

Carly also made front page news. Her death was also discussed in the Commons. Again there was no apology. And no lessons were learned.

Children are still being turned away because of lack of intensive care beds. Their ops are still being cancelled. They are still dying.

But tragically that is what we have come to expect of our NHS. We expect to wait hours in casualty. We expect to wait months or even years to see a consultant. We expect our operations to be cancelled.

In today's NHS cash comes before care and profits come before patients.

Saving lives costs money - but saving money costs lives.

JULY 1986: Critically ill heart baby Tammy Pearce turned away by five hospitals around the London area.

MAY 1987: Nurse shortage stops heart ops for two tots in London. Private surgery saves their lives

DEC 1987: Tiny Alexander Davies dies in understaffed maternity unit at the Royal Berkshire Hospital

JAN 1988: Thirty-four heart ops put off in two months at Birmingham Children's Hospital. Four patients die

MAY 1989: Guy's Hospital, London, asked public to sponsor intensive care cots as it had run out of money

MARCH 1992: Chloe Edwards, four, faces four-year wait for ear op at Prince Charles Hospital, south Wales.

NOV 1994: Parents of two tots hurt in car crash charged pounds 41 for stitches at North Tees NHS Trust, Stockton.

MAY 1995: Tories axe 245 hospitals in four years and 136,443 beds since 1979. A million wait for ops.


HAVE you suffered at the hands of the Tories thanks to their decimation of the National Health Service.

Ring us with your views on 0171 293 3362 or 0171 293 3822.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Palmer, Jill
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 17, 1997
Previous Article:LOTTERY MILLION WHERE?; pounds 30.5m unclaimed cash.
Next Article:Why I'm voting Labour By GEORGE BAKER TV's Inspector Wexford.

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